We closed out 2017 with a trip to Argentina, checking off a new continent. It was…an adventure. A good distinction in travel is a trip vs. a vacation. This was definitely a trip. Recaps on Mendoza and Buenos Aires to come, but let’s start with the highest point of our trip, quite literally: Aconcagua.
Aconcagua is one of the seven summits of the world. It is the highest point in the Western and Southern Hemisphere, and is the highest mountain outside of Asia. Now, despite being in good shape, we are most certainly NOT trekkers or adept at climbing at altitude. The good news is this mountain is also considered the highest least technical climb. Some climbers do this as a practice run for Everest or Denali because of the relative ease.
I should mention, we did not climb to the summit (22,837 ft/6960.8 ms), but instead went to Confluencia, the first base camp (11,090 ft/3,380 ms). Roughly less than 40% of people who attempt the full climb make it, mostly due to weather or altitude sickness. The record time to climb and descend is 11 hours and 52 minutes, set in 2014. This sounds insane to me, considering the average trek is 20 days, to allow ample time for altitude acclimation.
Side note: remember Andes Candies? They were in the airport lounge in Newark! It brought back memories from Christmas-time growing up, where they were always out in the candy dishes. I didn’t know the chocolates were still made, and I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see the real Andes in person.
Anyway, back to the trip. We drove about 2.5 hours from Mendoza to Aconcagua Provincial Park. Come prepared, because there’s not much along the way there.
This looks like a dried up river bed, don’t you think?
After our scenic drive, we made it the park entrance, where we bought our tickets in the office. You can get a one day ($500 ARS, or $26 USD), 3 day, etc. pass. Make sure to bring cash and your passport. There was one English-speaking ranger on duty who helped us out.
The rangers at the ticket office give you a trash bag that is attached to your ticket number. This helps ensure hikers take everything with them back off the mountain and prevent litter. She told us to bring 2 liters of water each, sunscreen, and snacks. It was a little late to offer this advice, since they have no potable water, supplies, etc. here. But, they do have bathrooms without toilet paper. So there’s that.
After we got our tickets, we hopped back in the car and drive to the main parking lot. We packed up all the water, slathered on an inadequate amount of sunscreen, and hit the path!
The beginning of the hike was so beautiful and scenic with wildflowers and crystal clear skies. I felt like I was in the Sound of Music! We followed a group of people up the dirt path toward the snow-capped mountains. You can’t really get lost, just keep your eye on the snow. After we made it past all the trekkers with huge backpacks (I cannot imagine carrying all that extra weight), we had the trail all to our selves.
The bridge was the end of the ‘leisurely stroll’. The path eventually turned a bit rocky, which made it a little challenging. As we continued on, the altitude started to take its toll on us. I felt like a moon man moving in slo-mo, even when the climb wasn’t that steep.
At one point, we stopped every few minutes to take in some air. The scenery was just as breathtaking as the lack of oxygen. Avalanche zone? Cool. Let’s take a break right here.
There are signs along the way estimating how long it will take to get to Confluencia, and up until this point, we were crushing it in half the time. That soon ended, but the excitement of finally making it helped carry us on to the final stretch. Some mules were coming back down the mountain, and I couldn’t be more impressed by their agility. I assume they were carrying supplies to and from the higher elevations.
Made it! Once we reached Confluencia, we checked in with the park rangers there. They recorded our ticket numbers and sent us on our way. They offer medical care at this camp, and those forging on to the next camp can stay overnight here.
To Steve’s displeasure, I insisted we climb the little hill past Confluencia to get the best view. Time for a snack, reflection on our accomplishment, and a few pics.
After taking it all in, we set back on the trail to get down. Based on our speedy ascent, I thought we’d be back down in no time. Again, the altitude and high winds had other plans for us. The mules sprinted by us as we shuffled along, realizing the sun was slowly sizzling exposed winter-white flesh.
Finally, back down to where we started! After completing the hike, we were told to check back in at the ticket office. I like that accountability, so hopefully no one gets left behind! After checking in, we sought out water. I have never wanted a cold drink more! We stopped into Puente del Inca, just down the road, for hydration. I’m not sure if it was the extreme thirst or what, but Powerade Apple flavor is amazing. Is that a thing in the U.S.??
This hike turned out to be a highlight on our trip. Would I tackle the Himalayas next? Probably not. But never say never!
Dress appropriately. It was 90 degrees the day we went, but with the high winds and increasing elevation, it did not feel that way. Sunglasses and a hat were key. I wish we had brought even more water, and been more meticulous with sunscreen application. Ouch. I have a handprint on my shoulder, lovely.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Santiago, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina are the closest airports.
We drove from Mendoza, and it took about 2.5 hours. There is a checkpoint near the park entrance guarded by the military. Tell them ‘A Aconcagua, no Chile’. The Chilean border is nearby, and part of the mountain range is technically a no-man’s land.
Another option is to take a bus from Mendoza. The bus takes 4 hours, and runs 3 times a day.
WHEN TO GO:
Summer time- the weather is very unpredictable. It can get VERY cold with high winds at any time of year.
Mendoza and Buenos Aires recaps coming soon!